WASHINGTON Afghan President Hamid Karzai intends to impose rules restricting international involvement in anti-corruption investigations, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
Under the proposed rules, U.S. and other foreign law enforcement specialists in two anti-corruption organizations in the Interior Ministry would have no direct involvement in investigations, the report said.
"The management will be Afghan, and the decision-makers will be Afghan, and the investigators will be Afghan," Karzai's chief of staff, Mohammad Umer Daudzai, told the newspaper in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Foreign advisers, most of whom work for the U.S. Justice Department, will be limited to "training and coaching, but not decision-making," Daudzai was quoted as saying.
The planned changes have alarmed U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington and prompted efforts to try to persuade Karzai and his advisers to soften the restrictions, the report said.
"What he's proposing would effectively neuter these two bodies," a U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy told the newspaper.
Karzai's advisers think that U.S. officials have de facto control over the key anti-corruption groups, the Post said.
"There is suspicion that the international partners have a decision-making role," Daudzai said. But U.S. officials insist that the Afghan leaders are in complete control, the report said.
Washington fears widespread corruption is helping to boost the Taliban-led insurgency and complicating efforts to strengthen central government control so U.S. and other foreign troops can begin withdrawing from July 2011.
Karzai promised that fighting graft would be his top priority when he was sworn in for a second five-year term, echoing demands from U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, but frustration is growing over Karzai's willingness to tackle corruption.
Karzai has acknowledged that Afghanistan "like all countries" has problems with graft, but said the issue had been "blown out of proportion" by Western media.
(Writing by Joanne Allen; Editing by Eric Walsh)